Thursday, March 5, 2020

Ten-Seven by Dana King


This is the fourth outing in King's Penns River series, featuring Detective Ben Dougherty and a host of recurring characters. In an interview for Crime Spree magazine, King describes Penns River as a fictional version of a three city area in western Pennsylvania that King grew up in and returns to often. After a death in a casino parking lot, Dougherty is called in to investigate, and because it's a casino, the local mob connections can't be far away. There's a large cast of characters and probably the best thing to do is to start the first in the series, Worst Enemies, because there are a lot of people with continuing story lines. But I haven't read the books in consecutive order and I got by, as the backstory is brought in deftly.

One of the interesting threads in this novel features three women cops who have been brought onto the police force in Penns River by a federal decree. I appreciated that this played out as not just one story but several different stories, as the men and women all assess each other in their new relations.

I was quite impressed with the unexpected slam bang opening, although it might not have the same impact if you read about it in the intro from Goodreads and some of the reviews. So don't. just jump in.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Heart of the Hunter by Deon Meyer

Heart of the Hunter
I'm not much of a thriller reader, but I've realized lately that I do really enjoy the subcategory of the cat and mouse type when I come across them if they're well written. Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male was the first one I read where I became explicitly conscious of this.

I think I made a couple of attempts at starting this book when it came into the bookstore where I worked, but the opening didn't reveal the subgenre of the book to me, and in fact, you have to get through a couple of setup chapters before you get to the main thrust of the story. After that, though, even these secondary stories of the people giving chase to a man impelled on a heroic quest across South Africa add to the story rather than taking away from it.

Although many of the characters in this novel are black--his protagonist is Xhosa, but other native South Africans appear as well--Deon Meyers is white, and this book was originally written in Afrikaans. Although he is an enormously popular writer in both South Africa and Europe, this was the first of his many titles to be published in America. At the time I was working in a bookstore, he didn't seem to have found his following here yet, and that's a shame, because deserves one. This particular story happens not too long after Apartheid has ended, and Meyer gives a sense of how complicated this transition was and how many different players were involved, without making it too dry.

His main character, Tiny Mpayipheli, is a man we meet enjoying a quiet life after being heavily involved in many unsavory things that different political powers were up to in his youth. One of the questions Tiny asks of himself throughout the book is whether one can turn from their essential nature. I'm not sure we really discover the answer to this in the course of the story, but it does give him a complexity that adds dimension to his story.

Aside from the suspense, there is an aspect of the novel that also places it in the road trip genre, and one of the pleasures of the book is getting to know South Africa a little through the description of the landscape, as well as some of the different people of the countryside. In truth, Tiny makes his way forward through the kindness (or cluelessness) of strangers more than he does by his own derring-do, but that gives Meyer a chance to add a little humor to an otherwise rather relentless tale.

A minor quibble is that with some of the secondary characters, Meyer can't seem to refrain from pointing out distinctive physical features, especially if they might be viewed as negative ones. Once a character is designated as fat, you are sure to be told it again at every opportunity. One of the characters pitted against Tiny has a small hump on his back, which I think we are reminded of at least thirty times. This is a pity because Meyer is actually quite good at character and has some better arrows in his quiver than these.

That said, though, this certainly won't keep me from reading more from this master storyteller.